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Survey Finds 1 in 6 Estonians Sexually Abused in Childhood

Blooming grass doll. Photo: PhotoMIX Company  From Pexels
Blooming grass doll. Photo: PhotoMIX Company From Pexels

The Victim Support Development Unit of the Estonian Social Insurance Board commissioned a child sexual abuse survey that was conducted online by Norstat in April. The results indicate that one in six Estonians have been sexually abused in childhood by an adult.

According to Virve Kass, a victim support expert at the Estonian Social Insurance Board, the number of Estonians who have experienced childhood sexual abuse is startlingly high. “There may also be a considerable number of those who have not disclosed their traumatic experiences to anyone. In cases of sexual abuse or violence, the perpetrators are the ones who should bear all responsibility, and victims should not be blamed in any way. We welcome the public discussion that has developed around this issue, and we are glad to report that people are coming forward with more cases and receiving relevant support,“ commented Kass. 

The online survey comprised 2050 people between the ages of 15 and 74, focusing on their experiences with childhood sexual abuse (i.e. up to age 15), specifically abuse by adults. Overall, 17% had experienced sexual abuse, 6% had experienced attempted rape, and 3% had been raped as children.

Male strangers were most frequently reported as perpetrators, with 43% of the victims having experienced an attack by a stranger. In 40% of the cases, the perpetrators were male acquaintances. Close relatives were reported less frequently (10%), as were persons in positions of trust (4%).

According to Kass, victim reports cover a wide range of abuse. “There are cases where an adult stranger attacks a child on the street. Such adults often end up abusing several children, which is why it is important to report all cases to prevent any subsequent incidents from happening. However, there are also cases where children have been abused by stepfathers, fathers, brothers, mothers, or other close relatives," explained Kass.

According to Pille Alaver, the Head of Services for Victims of Sexual Violence at the Estonian Social Insurance Board, the consequences of any kind of sexual abuse are serious and longstanding. “In addition to physical injuries, victims of sexual abuse experience a wide range of mental health problems such as depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. The sooner the victims receive help, the better their chances of recovery," explained Alaver, adding that it is also extremely important to ensure that bystanders report any suspicions of abuse because victims often find it difficult to talk about what has happened to them.

The survey also indicated that only 33% of people who experienced attempted rape in childhood disclosed that information to someone else. “Owing to that, it is extremely important to teach children about their bodily rights, and to seek help if something has happened,” stressed Alaver.

The online survey was conducted by Norstat and the sample comprised 2050 Estonian residents. For more information about the survey, please visit:

https://sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Uuringud/seksuaalse_vaarkohtlemise_kogemise_uuringu_esitlus_18.05.2021.pdf (PDF)

 

Victim Support Services:

  • People who have experienced sexual violence in the past can turn for support and advice by phone to the victim helpline 116 006 and also via chat at palunabi.ee. In addition, there is an extensive network of victim support specialists operating all across Estonia.
  • Special support groups have been set up for adults who have experienced sexual violence in childhood. These groups aim to help with the adoption of daily coping mechanisms. To join one of these support groups, please write to tugigrupp@sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee.
  • If less than 7 to 8 days have passed since the incident of sexual violence, we recommend contacting the nearest emergency aid centre for victims of sexual violence. These centres are located at the major hospitals in Tallinn, Tartu, Kohtla-Järve, and Pärnu, and they are open 24/7. All victim support services are provided free of charge to women, men, and children of all ages. For more information, please visit palunabi.ee/seksuaalvagivald
  • In case of imminent emergencies, please call the national emergency number 112.
  • For advice and help on matters related to children, please call the national children’s helpline 116 111.
  • All victims or suspected victims of child sexual abuse can also turn to Barnahuse centres in Tallinn, Tartu and Jõhvi.